Rapid Response Landlord Tenant Mediation Program helps find a ‘harmonious conclusion’

A free mediation program to assist landlords and tenants throughout the COVID-19 crisis has already served more than 100 clients around the Big Island.

The Rapid Response Landlord Tenant Mediation Program, which began in May, has opened 22 mediation cases between landlords and tenants in East Hawaii alone in an effort to reduce a potential influx of pandemic-related eviction proceedings later in the year.

ADVERTISING


Julie Mitchell, executive director of the Ku‘ikahi Mediation Center, which administers the program in East Hawaii, said the program has had a successful first few months, surpassing her expectations for the number of participants.

“It’s something that’s equally beneficial for both sides,” Mitchell said. “A lot of times, just giving people the opportunity to talk to each other about this is a huge help for everyone.”

The program was founded shortly after Gov. David Ige issued a moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent in late April. Mitchell said the program is intended to facilitate communication between landlords and tenants who may be in precarious financial straits when the moratorium ends.

However, earlier in June, Ige extended the moratorium until the end of July, which Mitchell said likely will cause more people to seek out the program.

“And I get the feeling we’re going to see even more when the courts begin to reopen,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said tenants benefit from the program by having free access to resources that let them know what options are available to them, as well case managers who help them speak on equal footing with landlords.

Landlords, meanwhile, can benefit by opening discussions with tenants about alternative payment options as the moratoria are moved further and further away, Mitchell said.

According to data from real estate firm Amherst, 28 million renters in the U.S. are at risk of eviction due to the pandemic.

Eric Paul, executive director of the West Hawaii Mediation Center, which administers the program in West Hawaii, said all of the West Hawaii cases that have gone to mediation have ended successfully.

Tiffany Edwards Hunt, a Pahoa landlord who was involved in a successful mediation case involving a pair of tenants, said she first called Ku‘ikahi on a Monday and had the case completely resolved by Friday.

Hunt, whose shop in Pahoa has closed due to COVID-19, requiring her to rely on tenants for income, said she found herself needing to intermediate in a dispute between two people who she didn’t know particularly well, and called Ku‘ikahi “in desperation” after hearing about the program.

“It really felt like an essential service,” Hunt said. “It’s a much better alternative to clogging up the (court) system with disputes like this.”

Hunt said all three parties were able to reach a “harmonious conclusion” after mediation.

Mitchell said the program will extend until at least the end of October, which represents phase one of the program. Phase two, she said, depends on what happens with the pandemic over the coming months.

ADVERTISING


Meanwhile, Ku‘ikahi received a $10,000 grant from the First Hawaiian Bank Foundation earlier this week to support the program. Paul said West Hawaii Mediation Center also is seeking additional funding to extend the program on the west side as well.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.